Back to top

We need to talk about cheating

27 August 2018 | news

Cheating in any form harms universities, the university system, external parties such as employers who rely on the integrity of qualifications—and students themselves, who can face blackmail and extortion threats from those they pay for ‘services’.

More positively, a body of research and good practice has been developed to better understand, prevent, respond to and address contract cheating and other forms of academic dishonesty.

That research emphasises prevention by ensuring that students (and lecturers) understand what good academic practice looks like—and how, and why, to avoid academic dishonesty. New Zealand universities have moved from more reactive academic dishonesty policy positions to proactive academic integrity ones. Universities and their students have a range of resources available to support good academic practice and academic integrity.

The most recently completed cycle of academic audits for New Zealand universities recognised good practice in a university that had introduced a mandatory academic integrity course1 and the “comprehensive and coordinated approach”2 taken by another. Audit panels also made recommendations for three universities to “review guidelines for the use of … plagiarism detection software”,3 prioritise the development of a systemic academic integrity strategy4 and record proven cases, along with the development of “educative resources”.5

In 2018, seven universities have proactive academic integrity policies and are oriented towards education and prevention. The eighth has a recommendation that it review its dishonest and improper academic practice policy.6

Contract cheating, such as in the Assignment4U case, is a real concern for quality agencies, universities and students. Unlike other forms of academic dishonesty such as plagiarism, contract cheating cannot be confused with poor academic practice. The only reason someone would submit an assignment that they did not write themselves is to cheat.

But the motivations behind such cheating can be complicated and there are no simple solutions.7 Tracy Bretag and Rowena Harper recently reported on a large-scale survey exploring prevalence and attitudes to contract cheating among Australian students and staff.8 They found that 6% of students had engaged in cheating behaviour, but that 27% had provided someone else with a completed assignment. Other large-scale global research by Rebecca Awdry and Veronika Králíková into use of ‘essay mills’ and other contract cheating websites suggests that globally 21% of students have used these sites.9

Why would we expect things to be different in New Zealand universities? Despite being an offence under the Section 292E of the New Zealand Education Act (1989) to “provide or advertise cheating services”,10  a quick web search comes up with tens of ‘essay writing’ or ‘help’ websites. We also recently saw social media commentators being paid to promote the EduBirdie cheating site. New Zealand students are as exposed as other students to contract cheating sites.

One reason the Assignment4U case is of interest internationally is that New Zealand was one of the first countries to introduce specific legislation making provision or advertising of contract cheating services an offence. It is disappointing that the New Zealand Assignment4U case was settled under the Criminal Proceeds Recovery Act.11 But it did make the point that academic dishonesty is often linked to other forms of dishonesty and that it is a serious enough act to warrant a police investigation.

Legislation is not the only response to academic dishonesty, but it does give a strong signal on the seriousness of this issue. Best practice advice for universities continues to be to take an integrated approach that includes awareness of the value and benefits of academic integrity and support for achieving it.

Support is also needed for detecting, responding to and reporting failures of academic integrity. It can be a challenging topic, but we need to talk about it. And along with education and support for good, ethical and honest academic practice, we also need to talk about the consequences of academic dishonesty.

________________________________________________________________________

  1. AQA (2014). Report of the 2014 Academic Audit of the University of Auckland - Te Whare Wānanga o Tāmaki Makaurau. Accessed from http://www.aqa.ac.nz/sites/all/files/Auckland%20Cycle%205%20Audit%20Repo...
  2. AQA (2016). Report of the 2015 Academic Audit of The Auckland University of Technology – Te Wānanga Aronui o Tāmaki Makau Rau. Accessed from http://www.aqa.ac.nz/sites/all/files/AUT%20Report%20Cycle%205.pdf
  3. AQA (2014). Report of the 2014 Academic Audit of the University of Auckland - Te Whare Wānanga o Tāmaki Makaurau. Accessed from http://www.aqa.ac.nz/sites/all/files/Auckland%20Cycle%205%20Audit%20Repo...
  4. AQA (2014). Report of the 2014 academic audit of Victoria University of Wellington - Te Whare Wānanga o Te Ūpoko o te Ika a Māui. Accessed from http://www.aqa.ac.nz/sites/all/files/Victoria%20Cycle%205%20Audit%20Repo...
  5. AQA (2016). Report of the 2015 Academic Audit of The Auckland University of Technology – Te Wānanga Aronui o Tāmaki Makau Rau. Accessed from http://www.aqa.ac.nz/sites/all/files/AUT%20Report%20Cycle%205.pdf
  6. Matear, S. (2018). Quality Assurance and Academic Integrity: A New Zealand perspective. Paper presented at the Higher Education Quality Network Conference, 7-8 June 2018, Melbourne, Australia. Accessed from https://www.hes.edu.au/sites/default/files/uploaded-content/website-cont...
  7. Bretag, T. and Harper, R. (2018). Contract cheating in Australian universities. Paper presented at the Higher Education Quality Network Conference, 7-8 June 2018, Melbourne, Australia. Accessed from https://www.hes.edu.au/sites/default/files/uploaded-content/website-cont...
  8. Ibid.
  9. Awdry, R. and Králíková, V. (2018). Global Essay Mills Survey Project Summary. Paper presented at the Higher Education Quality Network Conference, 7-8 June 2018, Melbourne, Australia. Accessed from https://www.hes.edu.au/sites/default/files/uploaded-content/website-cont...
  10. Accessed from http://www.legislation.govt.nz/act/public/1989/0080/latest/DLM3988805.html
  11. https://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=12078878